- 2 mins
Encouraging Autonomy in Kids Through Choices
Providing kids with options may help them become more assertive. A medical study by Dr Victoria A Miller showed that asking a child their opinion, even if the caregivers make the final decision, gives the child a sense of control. Although assertiveness may be hard to measure, we know that we can gauge this to a satisfactory level of accuracy. We all know this is an excellent quality to cultivate in children!
While the above study looked at pediatric medical decision-making, it isn’t too hard to see (in my opinion) how involving someone in a process can be an empowering experience that would help dispel tension. It can also apply to everyday challenging moments, i.e., reading, tidying, eating, washing…the list can go on and on.
A psychologist recently said to me:
“A choice isn’t a choice unless you have at least three options.”
For example – If I wanted my children to read, rather than asking them to read, I would present them with a choice of three or more books or magazines. These would ideally be all interest-based. While there’s no option of ‘not reading’, choosing what to read can provide reluctant readers with a sense of control. And who knows, perhaps one day they’ll find a story that draws them in and makes them fall in love with reading!
This kind of pushed circumstance that ended in a love of reading is what happened to me as a child. My late father never asked me to read. Instead, he would buy me a book from time to time to add to the abundance of reading material already at home. Without him ever asking me to read, I picked up a copy of “The Sword of Shannara” and embarked on a fantastic journey.
Now let’s be honest, this tactic is manipulation at the most basic level. We then must use this power with great responsibility, being careful not to turn this into a petty habit. I am neurodivergent. Specifically, I am someone who, once upon a time, would have been called a person with Asperger’s Syndrome. The world is black and white for me, and not in a color-blind way. I mean, it’s binary, yes or no, right or wrong, good or bad.
For me, it’s moving away from “You either eat that broccoli, or you don’t,” to the more diplomatic, “You don’t like broccoli, and you know how eating vegetables is important for your health, so what’s it going to be? Broccoli, asparagus, green beans, peas or all of the above?”
Admittedly it took some effort. But once implemented, it contributed to the improvement of the lives of all of those involved.
When using the illusion of choice, we intend to contribute to our children’s welfare positively. Despite being a subtle way to maintain control of certain situations with our children, remember this can teach them decision-making. Providing kids with options helps them feel in control over their lives, and I don’t see anything wrong with that!